Thursday, March 9, 2017

Cowriting a Short Story

As a writer of the Seamus McCree Mystery/Suspense series, my marketing aim is to expose more potential readers to my novels. When Teresa Inge asked if I’d be interested in submitting a story for the 50 Shades of Cabernet anthology, I immediately agreed. It fit my marketing needs: a Seamus short story in an anthology with lots of excellent writers that would expose a new group of mystery readers to him. [Pre-order links for Amazon and B&N.]

Over the last few years I had worked closely with Tina Whittle in founding the Low Country Sisters in Crime Chapter and become a fan of her Tai Randolph series. In the back of my mind, I hoped we might find an opportunity to work on a joint project. After receiving permission from Teresa to submit a cowritten story, I approached Tina and she agreed. Now we had to figure out what to write.

Tai is a southern girl born and raised. Seamus is a guy of the north and was going to have to travel south for this adventure to happen. Tai buys and sells Civil War antiquities in Atlanta; Seamus is a Civil War buff. That was enough of a nexus, and at the end of two email exchanges, we had the basic outline of the story. Now, how to write it?

Having talked to writing duos at mystery conferences, I knew there were as many ways to approach the writing as there are pairs who write. Tina’s series is written from Tai’s point of view in first person. My series often uses multiple POVs, but scenes in which Seamus has the POV are also written in first person. We agreed to write the first draft of those scenes in which our character was the more important POV character. We’d write the scenes in order of the story and write everything in first person. To remove reader confusion about who the “I” in the scene was, we stole a technique from the 19th century and introduced each scene with a very brief descriptor. For example, the opening scene is introduced as Seamus McCree Meets a Daughter of the Confederacy at a Soiree.

Tina Whittle
I had responsibility for writing the first scene. Tina provided me background information on what Tai and Trey would wear and how they might act in the setting I planned. After I completed the first scene, Tina composed the second, at which point we agreed to straighten out little plot inconsistencies after we had a first draft completed. (I was happy with that solution because even though I outlined the story, I’m a pantser by nature and don’t want to be strictly constrained by any outline.)

After we wrote “The End,” it was time to revise. I took the first crack to straighten out a couple of plot bobbles and smooth our first draft writing. We traded the manuscript back and forth until we both liked what we had. Version four became our submitted.

The editor had only small suggestions. Looking through the edits, it was as if we had performed a Vulcan mind-meld. (Which you understand if you are a Trekkie fan; otherwise replace with “we thought exactly alike.”) Tina and I were pleased to discover we agreed on which of the editor’s suggestions to take, which to agree she had diagnosed a problem but to develop our own solution rather than accept her suggested approach, and which ones we felt needed push-back. One sentence proved particularly troubling, and we batted that one back and forth in a series of emails until we wrestled it to the ground.

Bottom line, would I do it again? Any time Tina wants, I’m up for it. I not only enjoyed working with her, I believe that our combined story was stronger than either of us might have produced on our own. (Now, of course, she might think that’s because I dragged her brilliance down, but if she thought that, she was kind enough to never mention it!)

Would I partner with anyone? I’d be open to discussing a project, but I’d have to feel comfortable that our styles were compatible. Check out how we did. [Pre-order links for 50 Shades of Cabernet: Amazon and B&N.]

~ Jim

9 comments:

  1. Enjoyed learning how your writing duo came about and how you made it work! So much of writing is networking. :-)

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    1. Networking, I've come to discover, is what makes life go round -- which is a tough lesson for a shy introvert.

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  2. Love seeing the great writing partnership that you and Tina have. Great writers!

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    1. Thanks for taking a risk on us, Teresa.

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  3. An interesting insight, Jim. I'm sure this is going to be a keeper for fans of your series and beyond!

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  4. I really enjoyed reading this History of Our Story -- thank you for sharing it! I enjoyed creating our story immensely, and agree that we made a work greater than the sum of our respective brilliances. I hope Tai and Seamus have another adventure soon -- she's up for it, and I certainly am too.

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    1. Then I guess we need to find a venue for it. :)

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  5. It's an interesting situation that I'd try given the right situation, such as a short story or novella. A novel would be more than I'd try--at least initially. I've heard of novel co-authors, but it could make or break a relationship. I'm glad it was a great experience for both of you.

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